The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).
The Sacred Heart Cathedral was the oldest Catholic church of any kind on the Island; the original structure dated back to the 1870’s, and the Cathedral was preparing for its centennial. It was rather small for a cathedral, and although quaint it had none of the architectural beauty of St. Sebastian’s over on Point Collina, which Lucian Gerland built in part to make up for the Cathedral’s shortcomings. Nevertheless the Cathedral had one unique adjacent feature: the Island’s only completely Catholic cemetery, which was the final resting place for many Catholics who came and laboured in a land which always looked at Roman Catholicism as an aberration in the general scheme of things.
Madeleine found the transition from deft handling of a tennis racquet to handling a cane easier on her physically than her pride, but going to the Cathedral meant that she saw few of her Catholic schoolmates, most of whom went to St. Sebastian’s. She managed to genuflect upon entry with her family and then made her way towards the confessional boxes, which had a reasonably short line. Behind her was Raymond, who knew he needed forgiveness—from God and his family—more than his sister did.
This evening she insisted upon wearing a veil on her head in the old Catholic tradition, even though this had been discarded by most of the women in the Cathedral. As she stood waiting for her turn in the box, Pierre turned to Yveline and said, “She looks just like you did when you were young and going to Mass.”
“Her dress is considerably shorter than mine was,” Yveline noted.
“Young men do have some advantages these days,” Pierre said. Her illness had obviously not dimmed her focus on outfit coordination, with her white dress and matching stockings and shoes which exuded a message somewhere between the angelic and the sensual. The way she carried herself, accentuated by the cane, tended to shift the scene towards the angelic.
The cane did help steady her through the entry, exit and kneeling of the confessional box, as it had on the steps that led into the Cathedral. She emerged shortly, followed even more shortly by Raymond (“He must have given the executive version,” Pierre dryly noted later.) They returned to their pews towards the back to join their parents, where they prayed as they waited for Mass to begin.
The Cathedral’s conduct of the Mass was about as eclectic of a business as Madeleine’s outfit. The Novus Ordo Missae had been introduced into the diocese earlier that year, and priest and lay person alike were settling into it. The Cathedral’s music was still traditional, unlike St. Sebastian’s which set forth as much of the new music from the mainland as it could get through customs. The Cathedral was at its best at Midnight Mass, but one got the impression that the exhortations of Vatican II for congregational participation in the liturgy had a long way to go to realisation.
That impression was driven home with the people’s hearty response to Bishop Santini’s announcement that the Mass was ended. But the usual stampede for the door was braked by the conflagration outside. The des Cieux were a little slower than usual thanks to Madeleine’s condition, but they managed to make their way around the edge of the crowd which had filled the narthex and spilled out into the street and ended up at the curb on First Avenue.
The focus of everyone’s attention was the large trash fire that was burning in the middle of the street. Obviously the subject of great care of its makers, it burned white and hot in the cool Christmas Eve night which had turned to Christmas Day.
The des Cieux ended up standing next to Father Moore, who attempted to compensate his short visit to Madeleine as she lay ill by standing next to her family admiring the bonfire before them.
“What is this? Why is there a fire in the street?” Moore asked.
“It is a Yule Fire,” Madeleine replied without emotion. “They have set it to remind us of what they want this holiday to be.”
“Yule Fire. . .isn’t it supposed to be a ‘Yule Log?’” Moore came back.
“It is the best this place can manage,” Pierre observed.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” Moore asked.
“Why? This is not a hidden event. They know what is going on. They just don’t want to come,” Pierre stated.
“But that is their job,” Father Moore came back.
“Their job is to stay out of the CPL’s way,” Pierre said.
“The CPL is behind this?” Moore asked, surprised.
“You and Bishop Santini are slow learners,” Pierre sighed. With that the des Cieux turned away to find their car. As the fire started to go down, others did likewise to find that their cars were either stolen or vandalised. Now the frantic calls to the police began, and they duly arrived to go through the motions of taking the information so at least their insurance company would do something.
The 2CV was unharmed. “Papa, why do you think that they left our 2CV unhurt?” Madeleine asked as they puttered home.
“Maybe they didn’t think it was a car,” Raymond quipped.